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PESCO Projects Adapt and Accelerate Amid Shifting European Security Landscape, EU Report Finds

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Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), the EU’s flagship initiative to drive greater defence cooperation among 26 EU Member States, reports visible progress across projects in all military domains in 2022. A new report finds that the changing security environment is impacting many PESCO projects’ scope and timelines, with work on key defence capabilities being expedited and expanded. The annual Projects Progress Report finds that many projects are successfully transitioning from one phase to the next, with a marked uptick in progress in response to pressing security concerns.

In 2022, PESCO projects showed significant advances across their lifecycle phases. Out of the total 60 projects under review from the first to the fourth waves, a promising upward trend is evident. Twelve projects have successfully moved forward to the next lifecycle phase, while three are in the final completion phase, marking substantial achievements. Furthermore, 43 projects have made significant strides by meeting their interim objectives, indicating notable progress despite remaining in the same lifecycle phase.

Adapt and Strengthen in Response to Aggression

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has significantly impacted the European security environment, with Member States evaluating the lessons learned from the ongoing war and reshaping their defence capability development needs accordingly. The report finds that these developments are exerting significant influence on ongoing PESCO projects, manifested in key areas:

  • Expanded Project Scope: PESCO projects have demonstrated remarkable adaptability by broadening their scope and objectives to proactively address the wider challenges stemming from Russia's aggression. For instance, in the maritime domain, a project has been expanded to tackle the challenge of drifting mines at sea.
  • Adjusted Timelines: Recognising the urgency and criticality of certain capabilities, project timelines have been expedited. This acceleration can be observed in projects related to capabilities that address more complex and evolving air threats, including the missile domain, due to pressing air defence needs.
  • Resource Planning: The ongoing war has resulted in increased defence spending and project funding, while human resources remain largely unchanged with personnel navigating the challenges of increased demands.
  • Strengthened Partnerships: The war has prompted closer cooperation among PESCO member states, NATO Allies, and Ukraine. With some capabilities of PESCO projects used or activated in support of Ukraine.
  • Enhanced Interoperability: The ongoing war of aggression has further underscored the criticality of interoperability and exchangeability among member states. For instance, ongoing PESCO projects are adapting their scope and timelines and are considering synergies to better respond to the shifting security landscape.

The year 2022 was a milestone for PESCO, as the highest number of projects—18 in total—reached their project execution year. In total, 22 projects are slated to reach full operational capability (FOC) in 2025, highlighting the steady pace of progress within the PESCO initiative. However, eight projects require special attention or scrutiny as fundamental project management elements need to be addressed.  

PESCO projects are already producing deliverables and enhancing European capabilities in areas such as cyber defence, unmanned systems, medical services, and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) surveillance. Some of the capabilities of PESCO projects, such as 'Cyber Rapid Response Teams and Mutual Assistance in Cyber Security’ (CRRT) and ‘European Medical Command’ (EMC), have already been used or activated in support of EU CSDP missions and operations as well as EU partners, including Ukraine, with CRRT testing the capability in support of EU Partners and EMC acting as a coordinating and supporting body.

PESCO Projects Showcase Progress in Key Defence Areas

Within the realm of PESCO projects, several initiatives are already yielding fruitful results, bolstering Member States' capabilities. One notable project from the first wave, the EMC, has set up a coordinating entity to efficiently manage scarce European medical services in terms of planning, coordination, and management. Achieving full operational capability in 2022, this project played a pivotal role in successfully leading the Pandemic Response Exercise, RESILIENT RESPONSE, in 2023. Amid the ongoing war on Ukraine, the importance of robust military medicine capabilities in protracted, high-intensity operations has become evident.

Another project, ‘CBRN Surveillance as a Service’ is focused on establishing a persistent and distributed manned-unmanned sensor network utilising unmanned aerial and ground systems, providing comprehensive CBRN situational awareness. The project is set to deliver a technical demonstrator in 2023, followed by the establishment of a multinational CBRN unit.

The CRRT project developed a cooperation framework to respond to major cyber incidents through mutual assistance, joint training, operational support, and the creation of joint capabilities. Eight project members have formed Cyber Rapid Response Teams, actively refining their skills through regular exercises. These teams were activated in support of Ukraine and Moldova in 2022, demonstrating their operational value. The project is currently defining the next steps forward.

The Integrated Unmanned Ground System project, brings together 10 members to develop an unmanned ground system (UGS) capable of collaborating with other unmanned platforms and manned vehicles to provide combat support and service to ground forces. The project is progressing towards the design, prototyping, and testing of an integrated modular UGS platform by 2023, which could set the standard for future projects. In May 2023, a follow-on project (iUGS2) was established, reflecting the increasing importance of unmanned systems, as highlighted by lessons learned from the war against Ukraine.

Future capability needs moving forwards

The report also finds that many of the projects set up to address future capability needs have also moved forward. The European Patrol Corvette (EPC) project is on the cusp of achieving harmonised requirements, a significant milestone that will contribute to heightened maritime security and safeguarding critical infrastructure.

Similarly, the Maritime (semi) Autonomous Systems for Mine Countermeasures project has finalised the harmonisation of requirements and engaged an industrial consortium to develop underwater autonomous vehicles. Additionally, the Defence of Space Assets project aims to define crucial blocks that will bolster the safety and resilience of space assets, with the first joint exercise in this domain slated for 2024.


  1. All data and findings are from the PESCO Secretariat’s – the European Defence Agency (EDA), the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the European Union Military Staff (EUMS) – Annual Projects Progress Report. The report is not publicly available.
  2. PESCO Project Spokespersons
  3. PESCO Factsheet
  4. PESCO Website
  5. On 11 December 2017, the Council adopted a decision establishing Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). PESCO enables participating member states to work more closely together in the area of security and defence. This permanent framework for defence cooperation allows willing and able member states to develop jointly defence capabilities, invest in shared projects, and enhance the operational readiness and contribution of their armed forces.
  6. PESCO projects have been adopted by the Council and launched across five different waves;
    • 6 March 2018 – 17 projects
    • 19 November 2018 – 17 projects
    • 12 November 2019 – 13 projects
    • 16 November 2021– 14 projects
    • 23 May 2023 – 11 projects
  7. Each of the projects is carried forward by varying groups of PESCO participating Member States (project members) and is coordinated by one or more of them (project coordinators). The project members may agree among themselves to allow other participating Member States to join as project members or to become observers to the project.
  8. The key difference between PESCO and other forms of cooperation is the legally binding nature of its 20 binding commitments undertaken by participating Member States to one another. These include increasing defence spending, planning and developing defence capabilities together and improving the interoperability of forces and joint use of existing and future capabilities.
  9. 26 states participate in PESCO, the EU 27 with the exemption of Malta. There are 22 common members in the EU and NATO, and all of them are also participating in PESCO.